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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Cover by Ryan Stegman, J.P. Mayer, and Frank Martin

King In Black drags the Marvel Universe into its generic BS

Cover by Ryan Stegman, J.P. Mayer, and Frank Martin
Image: Marvel Comics

(This review reveals major plot events in King In Black #1-#3.)

A giant blob of sticky black goo that consumes everything it touches is an apt metaphor for a superhero crossover event. The worst of them take over a publisher’s output and pull ongoing series off their already established courses, clouding creative vision in hopes of a quick, temporary sales bump. King In Black (Marvel) isn’t the worst crossover, but it does have its hooks firmly in Marvel’s lineup for nearly half a year, as the story’s villainous Knull spreads darkness across the universe and encases Earth in the aforementioned sticky black goo.

The big culmination of writer Donny Cates’ Venom run that started back in 2018, King In Black reunites him with that book’s core art team—penciler Ryan Stegman, inker J.P. Mayer, colorist Frank Martin, and letterer Clayton Cowles—to tell another horror-infused superhero tale. But after three years, Knull remains a villain without pathos, a cartoonish embodiment of evil whose threat level is the only thing that defines him. Eddie Brock’s character journey is at the core of Cates’ story, but Brock is taken off the board at the end of King In Black #1, leaving the main event without its emotional anchor. That just leaves a generic superhero showdown, and while these creators know how to deliver big spectacle, there’s no sense of risk in the storytelling.

While working with Cates, this art team has had the opportunity to bring more suspenseful, unsettling horror visuals into the superhero genre. King In Black leans into the latter with its intergalactic bombast, but there’s still some very expressive storytelling, specifically around Eddie Brock and his son, Dylan. The first page of King In Black #3 uses juxtaposition of scope to heighten the personal tragedy for Dylan, using the top four panels to send readers through the cosmos before landing on an intimate shot of the boy weeping over his fallen father.

That’s a moment of quiet before all hell breaks loose, and while there are some creative uses of superhero abilities—Iron Man has a lot of fun with an Extremis-infected symbiote dragon—some of these moments are going to feel dusty no matter how well they are presented. Thor swooping in to smack the big bad with his hammer would hit a lot harder if that move wasn’t basically the foundation of War Of The Realms, a very recent, much better event. Last year’s Empyre was also very basic, but at least that was done in a month and a half. The longer King In Black goes on, the more glaring the hole at its center: Yes, Knull is the god of the abyss or whatever, but a sadistic need to plunge the universe into darkness is beyond exhausted as a villain motivation. As more heroes join the fight in their ongoing series, they become players in a shallow, predictable conflict, and because Knull is so flimsy as a character, there’s no real sense of victory when the tide turns against him.

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